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Minister Cwele WTIS Speech - Orange Farm

Speaking Notes for the Honourable Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services, Dr Siyabonga Cwele, on the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day celebration, Orange Farm, 30 May 2014


Programme Director,

Leaders from the ICT Industry,

Leaders from our State Owned Companies,

Parents and Members of the Community,

Learners and educators,

Distinguished Guests,

I am honoured to address you at today’s celebration of World Telecommunication and Information Society Day, which is observed globally on 17 May. The annual commemoration brings attention to the potential of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in meeting the development and economic aspirations of societies and of the importance of the Internet as a global resource. The global theme for this year’s celebrations is “Broadband for sustainable development”.

The telecommunications sector has been going through radical changes due to the convergence of technologies, particularly computers and telecommunications, as well as broadband, the internet and other information services.  This convergence of technologies has redefined the Information Society. Today you can watch a live televised broadcast of the 2014 Soccer World Cup in Brazil on your smartphone; which also connects you to the world, is a mobile office and has numerous other functions. 

It has always been acknowledged that telecommunications is essential for the economic, social and cultural development of society, but that requirement has become even more evident as the Information Age is increasingly recognised as the future of all societies. Telecommunications has a multiplier effect on our development, and the socio-economic development of this country is immense.  

It becomes important that we domesticate the interpretation of the WTISD theme, “Broadband for sustainable development”.  The key challenges facing our country are unemployment, poverty and inequality. We therefore cannot confine the interpretation of broadband to communication systems as it has to have economic and social value. Broadband is a critical element in ensuring that ICTs are used innovatively as delivery vehicles for health, education, governance, trade and commerce in order to achieve sustainable socio-economic growth. In other words the opportunity to utilise telecommunications to improve everything from the way we educate ourselves, conduct business more efficiently and contribute to economic and social development is limitless. Who would have thought that the founding of the internet would result in the world we have today.

This expanded definition of broadband is line with National Development Plan (NDP), which recognises that the importance of broadband goes beyond immediate economic value. Broadband is increasingly regarded as an enabling technology that promises wide-ranging social and economic benefits by changing the way we learn, work, use our leisure time, communicate and govern ourselves. The NDP states that “... a country that seeks to be globally competitive must have an effective ICT system, as this information structure provides the backbone to a modern economy.”  

This year’s theme calls on us to focus on the core challenges with regard to broadband uptake and usage, which can be attributed to three drivers namely infrastructure, affordability and skills.  According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Information Technology Report 2014, South Africa ranks 98th in respect of overall network readiness, which when broken down is 68 for infrastructure, 112 for affordability and 97 for skills. Thus, notwithstanding significant strides in the domestic ICT environment over the past twenty years, we still suffer from inadequate ICT infrastructure, which remains costly and inaccessible, although some notable exceptions exist.  

More importantly, severe weaknesses persist in our business and innovation ecosystems, which result in very low positive economic and social impacts.  Addressing these weaknesses, not only by developing a more solid ICT infrastructure but also by improving the framework conditions for innovation and entrepreneurship are crucial to avoid the emergence of a new digital divide that will be evident in a disparity of the economic and social impacts associated with what has been called the digital revolution.

As government we are addressing the infrastructure challenges through the infrastructure plan. The national infrastructure plan focuses on development at a project level, in particular mega projects and infrastructure programmes that are key for economic development, and this will be regularly reviewed and updated.  Individual Strategic Integrated Projects (SIPs) have been launched, in particular SIP 15, which focuses on communications services, specifically the rollout of broadband and digital migration. SIP business plans have been developed, and organisational structures and systems put in place in consultation with stakeholders to ensure roll-out of infrastructure. 

In this regard, we have developed South Africa Connect, which is a broadband policy, and its high level implementation plan.  South Africa Connect provides policy directives and targets for the roll-out of broadband in South Africa to ensure that 100 percent broadband penetration is achieved by 2030 as stated in the National Development Plan.

As we strive to provide universal access to broadband and all related ICT services, especially to the poor and underprivileged communities, we remain aware that affordability is always an important inhibiting factor in our quest for universal access to broadband and ICTs in general. In this regard Government has been putting policy interventions in place to lower the cost to communicate. Our commitment to increase uptake and usage by society is underscored by our support of ICASA’s efforts to lower the mobile termination rates.  

We are heartened to see that we are on the correct path as evidenced by the recent lowering of the pre-paid mobile telephony costs, and we encourage this trend and hope to see similar developments in post-paid and data environment soon.  SA Connect says that over time South Africans should have access to broadband services at 2.5 percent or less of the population’s monthly average income.

For South Africa to maximise the benefits of broadband we need to develop the skills that will drive the roll-out of infrastructure and the development of relevant content for social, business and government use.  To make sure that no-one is left out of this information society we need to eradicate illiteracy and make sure that broadband forms an integral part of service delivery by government.   The department has been working with industry on a capacity development programme in schools and communities at large and we encourage further support from industry in this regard.

As government we will continue to provide the necessary policy environment and policy certainty. The World Economic Forum index rates South Africa’s ICT political policy environment at 20. Through SA Connect, we as government commit to creating an enabling environment for both the private and public sectors to develop infrastructure, services and applications, to increase access, and make broadband services affordable. This can be achieved through policy and regulation, hence the current ICT Policy Review process.

Expansion on this environment through partnerships becomes a necessity if we are to maximise the potential impacts of ICTs in boosting competitiveness and well-being. The Department launched the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day celebrations on 16 May, through a media briefing session. Our intention was to ensure that we do not only celebrate on a single day but we create public awareness around broadband. Today marks the culmination of a two-week media awareness campaign on broadband and what the various industry players have achieved in this regard.

I am very pleased that this year’s celebrations have included learners. In terms of South Africa Connect, children are part of a special target group for our broadband interventions, in addition to women and people with disabilities. I understand some of the learners present here participated in an essay competition as part of this year’s World Telecommunication and Information Society Day theme, “Broadband for sustainable development.” Well done to all of you who participated.

We have embarked on a large scale roll-out of ICT labs in partnership with a number of industry partners. We believe that ICTs can enhance learning and help improve our education system. We also realize the importance of empowering our teachers so that they are competent to use ICTs to enhance teaching. 

There are many opportunities in the field of ICTs for innovation and developing new ideas and solutions.  This is why, when we decided to host this day here, we also took the opportunity to launch new computer laboratories in schools in the region.  We want to ensure young people develop ICT skills and also benefit from being able to access information over the internet.  We want our youth to become e-wise.  I am confident that some may go on to become innovators, entrepreneurs and developers of applications, or engineers, and help us develop the ICT sector in South Africa.

I wish to extend my appreciation to the South African Communications Forum for becoming our party in this year’s celebrations. The same is extended to all industry members who supported this event.  As we proceed to implement SA Connect, the continued participation of industry is essential.  Ongoing investment by the private sector in broadband infrastructure and continual modernisation and enhancement of efficiencies are required.  In order to reduce cost and optimise resources, we wish to encourage infrastructure sharing amongst operators.  The attainment of vision 2030 can only occur if we all work together.

I wish to reiterate our commitment as government to support the International Telecommunication Union endeavors on ICTs and broadband strategies to ensure that our people benefit from these technologies.  We will be continuing the facilitation of connectivity within schools. I also wish to express my interest in engaging industry in a formal manner on a regular basis and I have instructed my department to facilitate this process.

We need to move forward with speed to implement South Africa Connect to provide amongst others, much needed access for schools, health facilities, government offices and society in general. Let’s move South Africa forward together.

Once again I congratulate the winners.

I thank you.